Dolores C. Huerta, cofounder and first vice-president emeritus of the United Farm Workers of America—AFL-CIO (UFW)—played a major role in the American civil rights movement.
Dolores Huerta was born on April 10, 1930, in a small town in northern New Mexico. Her father, Juan Fernandez, was a miner, fieldworker, union activist, and state assemblyman. Dolores was raised by her mother, Alicia Chávez, after her parents divorced when she was three years old. Dolores along with her two brothers and two sisters grew up in the San Joaquin Valley in the farmworkers community of Stockton, California. Her mother was a businesswoman who owned a restaurant and a seventy-room hotel that often put up farmworkers and their families for free.
Dolores Huerta attributes her accomplishments and lifelong activism to her mother's influence and caring. Dolores was one of the first Chicanas to graduate from her high school and one of the first to receive a teaching degree from the University of the Pacific's Delta Community College. As a teacher, however, she soon realized that she could make more of a difference in her students' lives if she helped improve the lives of farmworkers—so their children did not have to attend school hungry.
Dolores began community organizing in 1955 as a founding member of the Stockton chapter of the Community Service Organization (a grassroots organization fighting social injustice). While working for the CSO, she helped create the Agricultural Workers Association (in 1960), and as a lobbyist in Sacramento in the early 1960s she was instrumental in the passage of legislation allowing voters the right to vote in Spanish and allowing individuals to take the driver's license examination in their native language. She later lobbied in Washington, D.C., for an end to the so-called bracero program that encouraged the use of "captive labor" from Mexico. In 1962 she joined Cesar Chávez in Delano, California, and they created the National Farm Workers Association, precursor to the United Farm Workers union.
In 1966 Huerta negotiated a farmworkers' contract with the Schenley Wine Company, marking the first time in the history of the United States that agricultural workers negotiated a labor contract with a major corporation. Her struggles on behalf of farmworkers continued into the next decades. In her seventies, she was still fighting to preserve and extend the rights of agricultural workers in the United States, working long hours and traveling to cities across North America promoting La Causa—the farmworkers' cause—and women's rights.
Huerta received a number of honorary doctorate degrees, was a board member for the Fund for the Feminist Majority (advocating for the political and equal rights for women), and president of the Dolores Huerta Foundation, with the mission of establishing Communities of Conscience focusing on community organizing and leadership training in low-income, underrepresented communities.
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